ScoreCard Research Catherine Hiles - The Penny Hoarder

Fried food can cure a number of ailments, including extreme hunger, PMS and hangovers.

But we all know by now that consuming fried food can lead to serious health issues like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. And eating fried food in restaurants can quickly stretch your budget. Surely there’s a way to enjoy your favorite fried foods without causing long-term damage to your health and your wallet, right?

A few years ago, I ditched fried food and meat for good, which helped me lose about 25 pounds. In addition to losing weight, I just felt better not eating fried food.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t get cravings for french fries and fresh falafel. But when I do, I have a number of copycat recipes to satisfy my cravings without ruining my diet (and my mood).

The following are some of my favorite vegetarian unfried recipes that are easy to make and just as tasty as their fried counterparts.

Unfried French Fries

[caption id="attachment_72873" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Do you love french fries but trying to stay more healthy? Try these 'unfried' french fries from Cookie and Katie. Photo courtesy of Cookie and Katie[/caption]

There’s nothing I crave more after a hard workout or a long day at work than a salty, crispy french fry. Instead of hitting the drive-thru for my fix, I turn to this recipe from Cookie and Kate, which produces surprisingly crispy fries for an oven-baked recipe.

The secret to getting that crispy exterior and fluffy interior I love is to soak the potatoes to remove some of the starch before baking. The recipe is a little time-consuming but totally worth it.

4 russet potatoes: $1.16

¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon canola oil: 12 cents

Sea salt and ground black pepper

Total: $1.28 for four servings

Baked Falafel Burgers

Falafel is one of my favorite foods, but most recipes call for you to fry the patties in oil to  make them crispy. However, I’ve successfully made falafel in the oven multiple times using recipes like this one from Minimalist Baker.

These baked falafel burgers taste just as good -- if not better -- than traditional fried ones. Serve them in warm pitas with toppings like sliced tomatoes, red onion and tzatziki sauce.

1 bundle fresh parsley: 99 cents

3 large garlic cloves: 18 cents

Juice from 1 large lemon: 24 cents

1/2 teaspoon sea salt and black pepper to taste: 8 cents

1 1/4 teaspoon cumin: 15 cents

1 15-ounce can chickpeas: 99 cents

1/4 to 1/2 cup ground oats: 17 cents

Total: $2.80 for four servings

Baked Zucchini ‘Fries’

[caption id="attachment_72875" align="alignnone" width="604"]Try these bake zucchini fries instead of regular french fries for a healthier treat. Photo courtesy of Chocolate Covered Katie[/caption]

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of zucchini. But like anyone who has tried growing vegetables, has family who grows vegetables or knows someone who has family who grows vegetables, I have been inundated with zucchini of all shapes and sizes over the years. My advice? Bread and bake those suckers using this vegetarian recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie.

Even though I am not a zucchini person, I’ve happily gobbled up more than my fair share of these. I like them served with marinara sauce, but I bet plain old ketchup would make a fabulous dipping sauce.

2 to 3 small zucchini: 75 cents

¼ cup flour: 4 cents

¼ teaspoon salt: 4 cents

¼ teaspoon garlic powder: 3 cents

½ cup milk of choice (I use almond milk): 19 cents

1 cup breadcrumbs: $1.19

Total: $2.24 for 40 zucchini fries

Baked Avocados

[caption id="attachment_71989" align="alignnone" width="1200"]A photo of panko crusted avocado tacos, a vegetarian friendly dish. Photo courtesy of Catherine Hiles[/caption]

This recipe from Minimalist Baker is a little more unique, but it’s honestly one of the best things I’ve made in years and has made  regular appearances on my dinner table. Even if you’ve never tried fried avocados before, you’ll still appreciate this unfried version.

The avocados are warm, creamy and have a slight crunch from the panko breadcrumbs. Pair these with shredded cabbage and chopped green onions in a warm corn tortilla, and top them with creamy cilantro dressing. You won’t regret it.

2 large, ripe avocados: $2

2 tablespoons olive oil: 19 cents

2 tablespoons plain, unsweetened almond milk: 5 cents

¾ cup panko breadcrumbs: 75 cents

¼ teaspoons each salt and pepper: 8 cents

½ teaspoon cumin: 7 cents

½ teaspoon garlic powder: 6 cents

Total: $3.20 for four servings

While I believe that almost anything is okay in moderation when it comes to food, I still stay away from fried foods just because they make me feel sluggish. But thanks to these vegetarian ‘unfried’ recipes, I can still enjoy the foods I like without worrying that I’ll feel greasy and bloated afterwards.

Catherine Hiles loves making new recipes, though she unashamedly eats oatmeal for breakfast every morning. Her current obsession is avocado toast with fried eggs and Trader Joe’s ‘Everything But the Bagel’ seasoning.

Running is an affordable sport, right? Well, yes… in theory. To run, all you need is a supportive pair of shoes and the open road. But in reality, running expenses can quickly add up (especially when you have a running shoe addiction like mine).

Race fees — and travel/accommodations for said races — can end up costing as much as a short vacation. And, while some runners like planning their vacations around their races, it’s not feasible to do that if you’re on a budget.

In 2016, I made a slightly crazy goal to run 12 half-marathons in 12 months. Not only did I crush my goal, but I also managed to do it without going bankrupt, thanks in part to virtual races.

What are Virtual Races?

As early as 1957, ‘national postals’ consisted of high-school athletes mailing their times into a national postal competition that selected and announced the winners. These days, anyone can sign up for a virtual race online for a variety of distances, from 5Ks and 10Ks to half and full marathons. You can sign up on websites like Virtual Strides, Gone for a Run and Will Run for Bling. After you finish a race, enter your time on the race organizer’s website to see where you rank.

Unlike regular races, you can run a virtual race whenever and wherever you choose. That means you can fit it into your life rather than the other way around. You can even run a virtual race on a treadmill if you want -- it’s completely up to you.

Virtual races are sometimes tied to charities, meaning your money goes toward a good cause. So, if you need help getting out the door to run, registering for a virtual charity race can be a great motivator.

How Can Virtual Races Save You Money?

If you’ve ever run an organized race, you know that entry fees can be expensive -- especially if you register for a larger race like the Chicago Marathon. In 2016, entry to this marathon cost $185 for residents and $210 for non-residents, according to

When I decided to run 12 half-marathons in 2016, I knew I couldn’t afford to spend upwards of $70 per race. By running local races and virtual races, I paid an average of $26.80 per race instead.

My Virtual Race Experiences

My first virtual race was a half-marathon through my local chapter of the women-only running group Moms Run This Town. I paid $16 and got a medal and a swag bag with coupons and samples for local goods.

The moms planned to run the race on a certain date in February, but that day ended up being extremely cold (I’m talking the weatherman warning that your toes might fall off if you dare to go outside). Since it was a virtual race, I stayed indoors that day and ran the race the following weekend with a friend. I not only saved my fingers and toes — I also saved money.

My second virtual race was through Virtual Strides and was called One Tough Mother Runner. For $28, I got a seriously unique medal that doubles as a wine stopper (a necessity for any mom at the end of a long day). I admit that I chose this race solely for the medal, and I ran the 13.1 miles by myself around my neighborhood.

This was a charity race which benefited the Family Lives On Foundation, an organization that supports grieving children. I felt good that my money was going to a good cause in addition to a kick-ass wine stopper medal.

Finally, I ran the She Power Half Marathon virtually through 131 Event Productions for $36. The original race is located in Indianapolis, and, in 2016, you had the choice of running it entirely on a paved trail, entirely on a dirt trail or half and half. I ran this race with a large group of friends in Glen Helen in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and it was honestly one of the most fun and memorable races I’ve run due to the people I ran it with.

Though they aren’t always as fun as live races, if you’re willing to forgo the water stops, course entertainment and cheering spectators of organized races, virtual races can easily help you meet your training goals for a fraction of the price.

Catherine Hiles is a four-time marathoner and 17-time half-marathoner. One of her proudest accomplishments is running a half-marathon with her 2-year-old daughter in a stroller.

Whether you use it to make a stir fry sauce or to sprinkle on your French fries (or chips, if you’re British), chances are your pantry contains some sort of vinegar.

But vinegar is good for more than just your taste buds. This versatile ingredient has many uses -- here are just five of them.

1. Hair Rinse

If you’re like most Americans, your shower routine consists of shampoo-lather-rinse-repeat followed by copious amounts of conditioner to help tame your mane. However, some people have chosen to eschew regular hair products in favor of natural ingredients like apple cider vinegar.

The Huffington Post recommends mixing 1 part apple cider vinegar with 1 part water to create a magical hair rinse that can take the place of your conditioner and will leave your locks tangle-free and shiny.

Simply pour or spray the mixture over your hair after shampooing, leave in for a few minutes and rinse thoroughly.

2. Metabolism Booster

A slow metabolism can be a real problem. Not only can it lead to weight gain, but it can also leave you feeling sluggish and just generally blah. Rather than spending money on expensive products that promise to rev up your metabolism, consider adding inexpensive apple cider vinegar to your routine. explains that apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which can help lower your blood pressure and eat up the starches found in most grains and some vegetables.

To use apple cider vinegar for a metabolism boost, recommends drinking the following mixture before breakfast or lunch each day:

1 12 to 16 ounce glass of warm or hot water

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½-1 teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 dash cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon raw, local honey (optional)

3. Glass Cleaner

[caption id="attachment_71618" align="alignnone" width="1200"]A woman cleans the mirror in her bathroom. CasarsaGuru/Getty Images[/caption]

I don’t know about you, but my windows and mirrors are filthy. Between toddler handprints and dog drool patches, I feel like all the glass in my house is dirty about five minutes after I’ve cleaned it.

Unsurprisingly, I go through a lot of cleaning supplies on a weekly basis. But, instead of spending money on window cleaner, I use vinegar to keep my windows and mirrors clean and streak-free — at least for about half a second.

To use vinegar to clean your windows and mirrors, Wellness Mama recommends mixing 2 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray your windows, wipe with a microfiber cloth, and voila! Clean windows for days (or minutes, in my case).

4. Odor Eliminator

As a runner, dog owner and cloth diaper user (for my kid, not for me), I’m always looking for cheap and easy ways to get the stink out of things. In the past, I’ve spent money on products that promise to leave my running clothes smelling fresh, only to find out that they smell just as bad as before or that the smell has simply been masked (and not well).

I have found that vinegar is cheaper and more effective than most odor-eliminating products. For workout clothes, recommends adding 1 cup of white vinegar (½ cup for high efficiency machines) to your machine in place of detergent.

Run as normal and follow with a second rinse using ½ cup of baking soda (¼ cup for high efficiency machines). Vinegar can be used similarly for things like rancid dog blankets and stinky cloth diapers.

5. Ant Repellent

Most of us have probably lived through an ant infestation in our houses. It can be pretty gross, but the products you use to kill them are even worse. Instead of buying products designed to kill ants, consider using vinegar as a natural ant repellent.

Reader’s Digest explains that ants hate the smell of vinegar, so they will soon find a new home if you surround them with it.

Mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle and spray wherever you see the little critters. This will serve as their eviction notice and they’ll soon leave your home in search of fresher-smelling digs. Plus, your conscience will remain clean as no ants will be killed in the process (at least not by you).

Vinegar is one of the most versatile things in your pantry, so break it out and try these ideas to save money and live a healthier life.

Catherine Hiles is British writer based in Dayton, Ohio. In her spare time, you can find her running, eating, reading and chasing around her 2-year-old daughter alongside her husband and elderly mutt.

Most of us experience a midafternoon dip in energy, causing us to reach for high-sugar snacks or highly caffeinated beverages. While coffee or candy might boost your energy in the short term, relying on them on a regular basis can be bad for your body and wallet.

As someone who works behind a desk in Cubicle City, I get it. Sugar-laden snacks are easy and don’t require much thought. Coffee is usually readily available in my office, though it typically tastes like feet. But what if there were foods you could eat to boost your energy and productivity so you can make it to the end of the day without pounding caffeine?

Luckily, these foods exist. And while it might take more forethought and planning than simply grabbing a cup of Joe, eating these foods will help you stick to your diet and budget.

Your Brain and Food

We tend to think of food as many things -- comfort, a way to lose weight, a way to treat yourself after a particularly awful day -- but as far as your brain is concerned, the more quality nutrients you consume, the better.

Harvard Medical School uses an easy-to-understand analogy to describe your body’s relationship with food: If you drive a luxury car that requires premium fuel but use only regular unleaded, your car will not perform its best.

Think of your body as a Porsche. If you fuel it with refined sugars and junk food, you’ll feel sluggish and won’t have much energy. But if you choose nutrient-dense options, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, you’ll find you have more energy and will be more productive throughout the day.

Flavonoids for Thinking Power

[caption id="attachment_64783" align="alignnone" width="1200"]A photo of a container of blueberries and tomatoes Foods like blueberries and tomatoes can help boost productivity and help the immune system. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

You probably already know that eating nutrient-rich foods gives you more energy and helps you stay healthier in general. So instead of telling you to just eat more fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins, I turned to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which advises that eating flavonoid-rich foods can help boost your cognitive function and memory, thus allowing you to reach your full productivity potential.

But what exactly are flavonoids?

Flavonoids are phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in almost all fruits and vegetables. They are potent antioxidants credited with helping out the immune system and acting as an anti-inflammatory.

I asked Debra Brunk, Nutrition and Integrative Health Practitioner at Radix Nutrition and Wellness, LLC, for her advice on the best budget foods to eat for productivity. She advised choosing brightly colored fruits and veggies, which contain high levels of flavonoids.

Foods like beets, sweet potatoes, berries and tomatoes all help give your brain a boost while also being great for your overall health. In fact, Wake Forest University found that the natural nitrates in beets help increase blood flow to the brain.

Eating more fruits and veggies in general -- not just when you’re feeling lethargic -- also has a secondary benefit: You eat less junk.

As Debra put it, “Usually when you’re adding something in, you’re taking something out.” In this case, you’re eating healthy foods in place of starchy carbs and sugar-packed junk foods, which can actually have a negative effect on your brain function.

Healthy Fats for a Brain Boost

Your brain is 60% fat, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, so snacking on healthy fats can also help boost its function and, therefore, your productivity.

Debra recommended avocados, which contain protein, carbs and fat in one tasty package. Avocados also contain oleic acid, which a study at the University of California, Irvine, discovered can help enhance memory and your brain’s overall function.

Other sources of healthy fat that Debra recommended include omega 3-rich fish, olive oil, flaxseeds and chia seeds.

Flaxseeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, which the University of Maryland Medical Center explains is important for brain health and growth. And Science Daily reports omega-3 fatty acids can help improve your ability to learn, strengthen your memory and protect you against mental disorders like depression, dementia and schizophrenia.

Afternoon Pick-Me-Ups

I asked Debra what her favorite pick-me-up food or drink is for that midafternoon slump. She said she likes to drink seltzer water, and eat crunchy vegetables and fruits like broccoli, celery and apples.

When we’re tired and hungry we tend to crave crunchy foods like potato chips, but it’s possible to satisfy that need to crunch with healthy options.

But she also mentioned that while an afternoon smoothie wouldn’t be as effective for her as something with crunch, some people might find a smoothie the perfect pick-me-up. The best thing to do is experiment with different foods to see what works best for you.

Eating Brain Food on a Budget

[caption id="attachment_64787" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Spinach is both an affordable and healthy food that can help with overall brain function. Spinach can be a great addition to daily smoothies. Try buying it and freezing it so it lasts longer.  Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

So, how exactly can you take advantage of these natural productivity boosters while sticking to a budget?

For me, it involves eating in-season foods. Raspberries, for example, are much cheaper in the summer months than in December.

Even if you don’t have a large family, you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables in larger quantities and freeze them for later. I buy spinach from Costco and freeze it to use in my smoothies for an extra punch of nutrition. A 1-pound bag of organic spinach costs $4.29 and enhances my daily smoothies for a few weeks.

Debra Brunk recommended checking your grocery store to see if it has discounted produce that is past its prime. You can easily freeze brown bananas or use them for smoothies, while you can also chop up slightly soft apples and add them to oatmeal or yogurt for a healthy breakfast.

As for buying higher-quality produce, Debra advised checking out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list and buying organic for the foods listed. For those not on the list, you can purchase non-organic to save some money.

Eating nutrient-dense food to fuel your brain doesn’t have to be expensive or take much planning if you know what to look for. Next time you’re at the grocery store, see what’s in season and on sale, and try something new -- you might be surprised to find a new favorite to replace your daily granola bar.

Catherine Hiles is British writer based in Dayton, Ohio. In her spare time, you can find her running, eating, reading and chasing around her two-year-old daughter alongside her husband and elderly mutt.